Whether you’re a professional chef or just a cooking enthusiast in your own home, you may be interested in searching for more sustainable food ingredients to use. Relying more heavily on sustainable ingredients can benefit the environment, make you feel more confident and prouder of your decisions, and in some cases, it can give you access to more nutritious and delicious foods.
So how do you find and recognize more sustainable food ingredients?
What Is Sustainability?
First, you should understand what “sustainability” really means. Sustainability isn’t binary; it’s hard to fully categorize foods as being either “sustainable” or “not sustainable.” Instead, some food products and ingredients are produced more sustainably than others.
Sustainability itself refers to whether a food is created in a way that can be repeated indefinitely over time with no ill effects – and it’s affected by every stage of production, from initial creation to processing to distribution to consumption.
Most sustainability efforts focus on some combination of the following:
- Resource usage. What resources were used to create and distribute this food? Were these resources renewable or non-renewable? Was the resource consumption required for this product disproportionate compared to other food products?
- Environmental impact. What type of environmental impact is generated by the production and distribution of this food? For example, was this grown or harvested using methods and technologies that are harmful for the environment? Was this food product shipped across the country, resulting in the emission of more greenhouse gases? There are dozens of different factors to consider here.
- Waste. You also need to consider how much food waste was produced in the process of purchasing and using this food. If you throw away 30 percent of the food you buy because it expires before you can eat it, that’s not sustainable. If you tear through several layers of cardboard and plastic to get to the actual food, you’re creating more waste than necessary by eating that product.
How to Make More Sustainable Food Ingredients Choices
There are several steps you can take to find and consume more sustainable food ingredients.
- Research the companies you buy from. Some companies, like Griffith Foods, are committed to sustainability, going out of their way to innovate new production methods and entirely new food products that are engineered to be sustainable. The more you learn about the companies you buy from, the more educated you’ll be on the topic – and when confronted with a choice between two competitors, you’ll have an easier time deciding which one to go with.
- Pay attention to the packaging. Next, pay attention to the packaging of the food products you’re buying – and on two different levels. First, notice the nutrition label and any indications of how the product was created or distributed; are there markers that show this product was created and distributed in a sustainable way? Second, think about the volume of packaging that’s required for this product. How much plastic was created and used to get this product to you?
- Grow your own garden. If you grow your own food, you’ll be in total control of how the food is cultivated. You can choose what type of soil and watering methods to use, which pesticides to use or avoid, and there will be no need for shipment or packaging. Even a small vegetable garden can therefore reduce your environmental footprint.
- Shop locally. Head to local farmer’s markets to get access to locally sourced ingredients. Oftentimes, you’ll find fresh, delicious foods that were grown mere miles away from your home – and they won’t have any packaging or unsustainable distribution methods bogging them down.
- Reduce your consumption of animal products. It’s estimated that livestock are responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it takes far more energy and water to produce a calorie of meat than a calorie of plant-based food. For these reasons, you should consider reducing your consumption of meat and animal products. You don’t have to become a full vegetarian or vegan, but even small reductions can make an impact.
- Buy seasonal foods. Rely heavily on foods that are in season. They tend to be more plentiful, quicker and closer to ship, and as an added bonus, less expensive.
- Only buy what you’re going to eat (and eat it). Finally, make an effort to reduce your own food and packaging waste. Only buy the foods you know you’re going to eat, and make sure you actually eat them; don’t overbuy and throw things away when they expire.
Sustainability isn’t one-dimensional, and it’s not something that requires a massive commitment. If you can make even a handful of better, more sustainable choices in your daily life, you can make a positive impact on the environment.